vegetable hors d'oeuvre

4
ROASTED FENNEL & BURRATA TOAST FROM ON TOAST.

When I finally made it home—my Maui home, my Ulupalakua home, my home in the middle of nowhere on the slopes of Haleakala—I completely collapsed. I stopped answering texts. And phone calls. And emails. I cooked for the first time in two weeks. I cooked without documenting, without a recipe, without a plan. I cooked because I wanted to. And then I slept. I slept long and hard and when I woke up I was almost more exhausted than the night before. I cancelled all my plans to see old friends and I laid on the couch and watched Fifty Shades of Gray and cried in my exhausted, jet-lagged, premenstrual state. It was glorious. I napped dreamlessly and I only woke up when Susan came home. Hours of sleep later, I began to feel something like human again.

I walked outside, barefoot, to the place we once said had the strongest concentration of plant spirits. I stood in this fluttering vortex of green leaves and sunlight and shadows and insects and spirits seen and unseen and I let everything fall away, slough off like dead skin cells in a fierce Korean spa scrub.

Read more and get the recipe from Kristan Raines’ new book On Toast here!

Here it is: the last fan fic I’m writing by request! Keep in mind I’m also undergoing a hangover as I type and this may suck. Yay! Written from Percy’s POV. Pairings: Jercy and Solangelo. Word count: 2,212.

It was at the last Gay Straight Alliance meeting of our senior year that we decided to get back at everyone. I’m not sure who came up with the idea of sending a big “Fuck you!” to the homophobic school board that controlled us for four years, but the decision was unanimous. As if we needed a reminder of why we were doing this, halfway through the meeting an egg flew on the window from the lawn outside, startling us as its shell smashed against the glass and raw yolk smeared down the length of the window. We pretended that it didn’t matter, because what else could we do? But inside I was furious, and knew the others were, as well.

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The end of the school year approached rapidly, and preparations for the big senior prom were well underway. Will, a likeable guy by anyone’s standards, had managed a spot on the planning committee. There was some objection from the president at first because of the nature of Will’s orientation, but one threat to involve the student court shut down the feeble protest. Through him we learned all the plans for the big night even before invitations went out. And when they did, we grimaced as we read the fine print in the bottom.

“Dates from other schools must be 21 years of age or younger,” Jason read when we met at Will’s house, “And a strict boy-girl policy will be in effect. These rules will be enforced at the door.”

Silence filled the room except for the sounds of Nico shooting things on his Nintendo DS. I suddenly felt cold, and pulled my feet up to my chest on the seat.

“I’m sorry, guys,” Will said, shaking his head sadly. “I really did my best.”

“We know,” Jason comforted him. I wanted him to put his arm around me and bury my head in his wide chest. It wasn’t fair that they thought they could control us like this. So we were a bunch of guys dating each other – so what? What gave them the right to tell us what we could and couldn’t do?

“Don’t worry,” Nico said, not looking up from his console, “We’ll find a way.”

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‘The way’ turned out to be a fairly simple plan, if it worked. There was a lot of secrecy involved and we even codenamed it Operation Bowtie (Jason’s idea). We tried to focus on the final lessons in class as the days to the party went by, but there was a constant anxiety in the group. It didn’t help that Jason and I nearly got jumped walking to my home together one night. It was just a bunch of stupid juniors with old-fashioned views and they were dumb to harass Jason, a big guy with broad shoulders and muscles for days, so we tried not to let it get to us. The preparations went on.

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My mom was in on everything, of course, as were Will’s folks. Nico’s dad wasn’t the type to get involved in prom anyways and Jason wasn’t out at his foster home, but it didn’t matter. As soon as we got everything in order nobody would need to know until it was too late for them to do anything about it.

When I filled her in mom had insisted that we have a ‘dress rehearsal,’ even though the plan was for there to be no dresses at all. I knew it was more about giving us a normal prom experience when nothing about what we’d done up to now was normal. Jason came home with me after school one day with his tux stuffed in his bag, and Will’s dad dropped him and Nico off after dinner. It was funny to help each other get dressed up, Jason struggling with his tie until finally allowing my mom to help him. Nico looked smart in a tight black suit and crisp white shirt, and Will’s blonde curls stood out on a dark navy jacket and brown leather shoes. Jason was a sight to behold, and I kissed him when he came out of the bathroom, still adjusting his light blue tie uncomfortably. It matched his eyes just right.

“How do I look?” I asked.

“Like a million dollars,” he said, and led me downstairs to join the others. Mom lined us up for a million photos, alone and in pairs, and of course as a group. When we sat around the kitchen island later eating ice cream and reviewing the photos, I fell in love with the one where we’d all posed as superheroes. If this kind of friendship and love was wrong, then I didn’t want to be right.

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On prom night there was a knock on my door and I tried not to have butterflies in my stomach when I heard it, but failed. Even though I knew exactly who was waiting for me, I couldn’t help but want things to be different. Mom let Annabeth in, and I heard them talk for a time while I got ready in my room.

“Percy!” mom called. “Time to go! Come see Annabeth, she’s beautiful!”

Of course she was beautiful, I knew this already. We had been friends since fourth grade, and she was my first choice in Operation Bowtie. I sprayed a bit of cologne on my neck and then ran down the stairs to meet her. When I rounded the corner to the front room, I stopped abruptly.

She was wearing a shimmery blue-green dress with jewels all over the bust. There were dangly earrings in her ears and silver heels on her feet, and with a touch of lip gloss she looked gorgeous. I leaned against the wall, smiling at her. “Hey, sexy.”

She rolled her eyes. “Come here; let me fix your tie.”

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Mom made us take a bunch of photos before I drove us to the events hall in the family car. It wasn’t glamorous or anything, but when we parked I pulled out a corsage for her. She’s smiled warmly as I put it on her, and hugged me. I thanked her again for everything.

We walked in walking close but not touching, and when the principal looked at our tickets at the door he gave me a suspicious look. At least he didn’t say anything. Step one of the plan was complete, now we just had to wait for all the pieces to fall into place.

Over the hour everyone arrived, and when Jason walked in with his friend Piper I wanted to run to him. Instead I waved a little, and he nodded in my direction as if nothing was up. It made my heart hurt, but I stayed with Annabeth and talked to her friends while waiters handed out baked vegetable wontons and other hors d'oeuvres. The reception room filled to the brim, until finally we were let into the main hall, where everyone dispersed to decorated tables in the dimly lit, cavernous space. Our round table held eight comfortably, and it took everything in me not to move the name tags around. We sat in boy-girl formation, the four couples coming together for the first time that night. Chatter filled the air, but we had a hard time saying anything at all.

And what could we say? That we were sorry it had to come down to this? That it was less than ideal? Everyone seated there was onboard with the plan when we came up with it, but I felt bad for using the girls to make a point tonight.

Annabeth poked me, and I turned to look at her. “You okay?”

I shrugged. “I’m sorry I dragged you into this mess.”

She rolled her eyes in typical Annabeth fashion. “I’m a grown woman, Percy. If I didn’t want to do this then I wouldn’t have agreed. Relax, this is going to be a great night.” Then she nudged me again. “You owe me a dance, though.”

When the food began coming around our spirits grew and the conversation was lively. We ate and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, even though my boyfriend sat on the other side of the table and everyone was still a little awkward. I showed Annabeth the superheroes photo on my phone, and she laughed until there were tears in her eyes.

Only when the party lights came on and music blasted from the speakers did everyone begin dispersing to the dance floor in the middle. Hundreds of sweaty bodies jumped and yelled in celebration of graduation, and I stayed back at the table alone, as if waiting for dessert. A tall dark figure approached me and sat down in Annabeth’s seat, and in the flashing blue light I saw Jason’s handsome face. He smiled at me shyly.

“We got in,” he offered, making me laugh. I wanted to embrace him, but there were too many people watching. We could ruin the whole thing before it even started.

“Are you sure this is a good idea?” I asked, looking at Will making Nico dance in the group and laughing hysterically.

He shook his head. “But it’s the only one I’ve got.

After so much dancing that everyone’s heels and jackets had come off, the DJ finally changed gears. “Alright, boys and girls,” he said in that stereotypical DJ voice, “Time to grab that special someone and bring it in for the first slow dance of the night!”

The effect was instantaneous. As a romantic tune came on the massive group split either into pairs or singles that headed off to the sidelines to watch. There must have been forty couples at least dancing closely, all swirling dresses and stiff tuxedo pants. I looked over at Jason, my stomach suddenly tied in knots. He nodded and stood up, straightening his tie for the millionth time that night. He reached down his hand towards me. “Ready?”

I wanted to shake my head no, that I wasn’t ready for this at all. Years of humiliation and getting picked on for being openly gay had made me afraid of deviating from the normal, and I didn’t want to face that on this important night. But I inhaled a deep breath and took his hand, feeling warm and solid in his grip, and I let him lead me between the tables to the edge of the wooden dance floor. I tried to avoid looking at anyone, but glimpses of stunned and disgusted faces appeared in the darkness regardless. I looked down at the floor, standing awkwardly across from Jason until he finally put his hands on my waist and I reached up to put mine around his shoulders and neck. We began to sway to the sounds of the music, at first avoiding each other’s eyes but slowly landing back in each other’s worlds. His face was so strong it made me feel brave, and I tried to stand with more confidence.

There were definitely murmurs around us, but I focused on the closeness I felt with Jason in that moment. It was my God-given right to love a human being and be loved back, and if they couldn’t deal, it wasn’t my problem.

I saw Nico and Will turning a few pairs down, and to my right Annabeth had grabbed Piper for a loveable and giggly tango. They were straight but not narrow, as they always said, and it made me smile. “A strict boy-girl policy will be in effect,” Jason recited to me in a low voice, smirking a little. “These rules will be enforced at the door.”

I shook my head at him, still unbelieving that I hadn’t seen what he had that first night. “But we’re already through the door,” I finished, and leaned up to kiss him. It was an explosive kiss, the kind that sends ripples in the stream of time and changes hearts and minds. I kissed him and a tear fell from my eye for the relief I felt, the yielding pressure to be normal, to be on the right side of the tracks, to be right. I kissed him for the fact that he couldn’t tell his parents about the boy he loved and for my supportive mom and friends. He kissed me back with a strong determination that made me think everything was going to be okay, and I let him take me away from that homophobic town in that kiss to galaxies far, far away, where nebulas were more colorful than a rainbow and black holes were just the beginning. When we landed on Earth again the song was over, and he hugged me fiercely. “I love you,” he whispered so only I could hear as a dance tune came on again and people forgot us momentarily to join the dance.

“I love you, too,” I told him, and we danced that night like we knew our lives would never be the same.